Friday, March 15, 2013

Review: Flexibath, the magical foldable tub

Our apartment has just a shower stall and that's not much fun for a toddler and his toy boats. So, last year I went on a hunt for a portable bath tub. An inflatable tub worked at first, but was soon too small, losing air, annoying to store and easily slimed up. Yuck! There had to be a better solution.

Enter the Flexibath ($35-$40 on Amazon). Created by Dutch Company A Real Cool World and distributed in the US by Prince Lionheart, the Flexibath is an ingenious plastic kids' bathtub that folds flat. Flat I say! So flat that when held closed with its attached clip you can store it in your luggage when you travel.

When opened, however, this transformer of a tub transforms into a bath big enough for children up to 4 years old. I've actually managed to squeeze both my tall kids (3 and 10 months) into one, though it may not be the most comfortable thing. Fun, though!

The Flexibath is bpa, phthalate, lead and PVC free, has a non-slip bottom and underside, and comes in green, blue, pink, red, white or clear. You can even buy an infant insert to use with smaller babies (though I haven't a tried it and used a molded tub instead.)

My only gripe: after almost a year of use and not much folding, the folding clip broke off the tub leaving a jagged edge that could have cut someone. I immediately contacted Prince Lionheart via their website and they sent me a replacement bath, but I really hope the company comes up with a better clip mechanism for the future.

Until then, I still wholeheartedly recommend the Flexibath to anyone who has just a shower stall or needs to travel, but recommend you check for clip breakage before each bath. Just be sure to hold on to your receipt too, so that you can request a new tub if needed.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Q&A & Giveaway - Donna Thorland's The Turncoat

Now that you've gotten my opinion of Donna Thorland's delicious historical novel THE TURNCOAT, how about you win a copy of your own to devour? All you need to do is like Rockland Mother on Facebook HERE and leave a comment with your thoughts on the Q&A with Thorland below, and you'll be entered for a chance to win a copy of the novel. Entries will be accepted until midnight on Monday, May 18th, with the winner to be announced on Facebook. You must be a US resident.

Good luck and enjoy your time with the author!

1. In the novel, you write about historical figures George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. Did you base their personalities on historical accounts about them or mold them to fit the story?

Author Donna Thorland
I believe that Hamilton’s childhood on Nevis and the difficulties his mother faced would have made him sympathetic to Kate Grey’s plight at the end of the book. As a young man he hungered for adventure, and wrote to his friend (and probable brother), Edward Stevens, that, “I shall conclude saying I wish there was a war.” During his tenure with Washington he longed to see action—so his participation in a daring midnight rescue is in keeping with his personality. Washington’s relationship with Arthur Grey is modeled on his wartime friendships with men like John Glover, Henry Knox, and Nathanael Greene.

2. Will there be more “Renegades of the Revolution” stories?If so, are they going to be about Kate Grey, or will they be tales ofnew characters?
My next book is about piracy during the Revolution. America had virtually no navy, but she had hundreds of miles of coast and some of the hardiest seamen in the world. Eight hundred American privateers took six hundred British prizes during the war, crippling enemy shipping and creating vast private fortunes. But the stakes were even higher on sea than on land. Because Britain refused to recognize American privateers as enemy combatants, privateers unlucky enough to be captured by British crews could be hanged as pirates.

3. What makes theAmerican Revolution such an interesting time period to write about?How did you know it would lend itself well to a fiction piece?

I was particularly interested in the occupation of 1777, because the officers on Howe’s staff attempted to recreate decadent Georgian London in conservative Quaker Philadelphia. It was a clash of cultures from the start.

In London, this was the era of the Hellfire Club (which Franklin attended) and public figures such as John Montagu, the First Lord of the Admiralty, who AES had as many as nine children with his opera-singer mistress. Sex and the Georgian theater went hand in hand. Wealthy men chose their mistresses from its stages, and those with less coin from the streets outside.

London had DruryLane, Covent Garden, and the Haymarket. Philadelphia had only theSouthwark Theater, built in 1766 and closed repeatedly by the cityfathers for immorality. (As a side note, John Andre did indeed designa backdrop at the Southwark that remained in use well into the 19thcentury.)

The Mischianza,or little bit of everything, was the crowning event of that glittering winter, but it owed more to the baroque extravaganzas of Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones than to the Grand Medley traditionof the English stage. The event, with its river flotilla and grand processional, bore Captain Andre’s stamp from concept to execution.And Peggy Shippen’s father did, in fact, withdraw his consent for her participation at the last moment.

4. Before readingThe Turncoat, I knew nothing about John Andre, or even thatthe British had a spymaster. Can you tell us more about him?

A talented artist, acharming conversationalist, and very much a self-made man, Andre diedin Tappan, New York, as much mourned by the Americans who hanged himas the British he spied for.

His relationship with the Cope family was as set forth in the book: they sheltered him during his captivity in Lancaster. He discovered a talent for drawing in their son, Caleb. After Andre was released to New York, he wrote to the Copes, asking them to send Caleb to him as a drawing pupil,and went so far as to offer to pay all of his expenses. The Cope family refused, but young Caleb made at least one attempt to run away to join Andre. Speculation about Andre’s sexuality has only arisen in the last forty years.

5. Your novel made me feel acutely the high stakes and grave consequences for the men and women who fought on the rebel side, while for the British soldiers it was business as usual. How do you think that uneven commitment affected the war?

For officers like Howe and Tremayne, it was “business as usual” – and a distasteful one at that. The rebels were more dedicated, often desperate. Franklin said it best: We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.

6. What do you see happening to Kate and Peter after the story ends? Do they live happily ever after?

Kate and Tremayne not only live happily ever, but they go on to foil an assassination attempt against Franklin in Paris. When I have time to write that, of course!

7. Were there really female agents working for George Washington during the American Revolution? What do we know about them?

There were female agents recorded in the pay books of both Howe and Washington,although neither Lydia Darragh nor the Widow of Mount Holly appear in them. There is no evidence to suggest that Elizabeth Loring and her husband were anything but what they seemed—avaricious Loyalists—but the affair was widely believed to contribute to Howe’s failure to prosecute the war more efficiently that winter.

Eighteenth century spies communicated in writing using ciphers, masks, and invisible inks. They concealed messages inside the heads of buttons, rolled in writing quills, and sewn into the linings of clothing. Andre was captured with the plans for West Point stuffed in his boot.

*Q&A provided by Penguin Group USA. Thanks, Penguin!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Book Review: The Turncoat by Donna Thorland

(NAL; March 2013)

One of the reviews for this debut novel calls it a "stay-up-all-night, swashbuckling, breath-holding adventure of a novel*," and I am in complete agreement. Donna Thorland's THE TURNCOAT had me staying up way past my bedtime...and I'm a woman in much need of sleep!

I was quickly hooked, though, on this historical novel about a Quaker woman who becomes a spy against the British in Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War. It's a steamy romance, nail-biting spy/war novel and American-history lesson mixed into one; a guilty pleasure of a novel that one doesn't have to feel too guilty about reading!

Kate Grey is a rare breed of Quaker. She has been raised by a man who is far from a pacifist--in fact, he has rebel-leanings and (secret) ties to George Washington. So, when British officer Peter Tremayne commandeers her home, Kate is not afraid to voice her dislike of his politics or his position. And soon she becomes unafraid of his amorous advances as well!

But, alas, their time together is cut short. A rebel spy hatches a plot to take Tremayne out of the picture, and this so-called Merry Widow implicates Kate in the process.

With Tremayne gone, Kate sees no other path but to follow the Merry Widow to Philadelphia and train as a rebel spy under her tutelage. But all is not fair in love and war. When Tremayne shows up in Philadelphia and recognizes Kate for whom she really is--and discovers that Kate is also engaged to his high-ranking cousin--they'll need to decide where their loyalties lay: to their countries or to each other.

Ooooo, did you like my dramatic synopsis (it was fun to write, I admit.) Seriously, though, this book is a great read and extremely well-crafted. I loved Kate Grey as a main character. She's smart and sassy, but still gets nervous and makes mistakes, and I find that makes her much more relatable than an over-perfect heroine.

The book is also very well-researched and I found the American history fascinating. I also have a soft-spot for brotherhood-at-war stories (All Quiet on the Western Front is a favorite) and this has a satisfying amount of that too.

Then there's the excitement of the battle scenes and the intrigue of the espionage (with elaborate costumes!) that kept me turning the pages. And of course, we cant forget the steamy romance seems that sometimes made me blush, but which I definitely did like. Though, I'd rather be told that a man was aroused than that "his c*ck stirred." But maybe that's a historical turn of phrase... or I'm a big prude!!

I'm really looking forward to the next book in Thorland's Renegades of the Revolution series. Until then, you should check out THE TURNCOAT so we can discuss--I will actually have the author herself by for a blog tour stop and a book giveaway on March 13th! Make sure you stop back then!

*Lauren Willig, National Bestselling Author of the Pink Carnation series 
This book was given to me for review by Penguin. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Review: Kids Kingdom Pirate Birthday Party (Nanuet, NY)

I totally dropped the ball on planning Andrew's birthday party early this year. Last year we booked the now-closed Playroom in Nyack months in advance, but this year I found myself three weeks out with no such plans and no energy to pull something together in our small apartment.

Then I remembered the pirate party Andrew's cousin had at the (since-closed) Kids Kingdom location in Pomona last year. The Nanuet location is still open, so I crossed my fingers and gave them a call--and was able to book a party on my desired date in no time flat.

The party was really nice! While I was initially disappointed we couldn't book in Pomona, the Nanuet Kids Kingdom is actually really great. It's much bigger, allowing for a bouncy castle, a play grocery store, an obstacle course, and a wooden climb-on pirate ship all under one roof. And you get the venue all to yourself for your allotted party time. The front door is locked once your party starts, so you can be sure your kids and all your gear are safe inside. I'm a big fan if that!

The venue play area is really clean and the apparatuses are fun and in good shape, despite the location also being used during the week as a preschool. Well, ok, you could tell the grocery store items have been well-loved (and were once once real grocery store boxes--smart cost saver!) but the kids could really have cared less and spent a lot of time playing there.

We had two lovely young party hosts for the hour and a half party, and after a good period of free play, they led the kids in some pirate party games (a treasure hunt, pin the x on the map, walking the plank, etc.) My son got a real kick out of the role playing ("Agh, there's a shark!") and also sitting in the birthday throne chair for pizza and cupcakes.

The only thing that pained me a bit about the party was something unavoidable--the price tag! A pirate party at Kids Kingdom costs $325 for 10 children (infants and birthday child are free) which includes pizza and juice for the kids, paper goods, party hosts, and party favors (a pirate cup, coins and a tattoo for boys and play jewelry for the girls.) Additional kids are $15 and food and drink for parents and extra party time costs extra. You also have to bring your own cake.

I of course understand why the party costs so much and don't fault Kids Kingdom. When you're running a big facility like that, there are big bills to pay! And, while my wallet hurt a bit, the stress I saved this year really was worth the cost. Winter birthdays require indoor parties, and it can be tough to do the planning for that when you've got high-maintenance little ones.

So, I definitely recommend you check out Kids Kingdom in Nanuet for birthday parties! They also offer royal parties and princess tea parties (fun, fun, fun!)

Visit Kids Kingdom online at or on Facebook HERE.

**Pricing and details are correct as of posting but may change! Please check with Kids Kingdom.